Twenty-Five Years Since "Let's Do It For Johnny!"
There is a certain piece of American cinema that, in my opinion, rivals the importance of "Citizen Kane" and "Manhattan" in the canon of groundbreaking films, and that piece of cinema is "The Outsiders." If you doubt me, ask any even slightly heterosexual woman of a certain age where she was the first time she heard the phrase "Let’s do it for Johnny." I guarantee you squeals will follow.
Can you believe that last month we celebrated 25 years since its release? It’s enough to make a girl feel positively ancient.
My friend Joan and I rented the movie based on S.E. Hinton’s life-changing novel of the same name when we were in the sixth grade, just a few years after it appeared in movie theaters. When the high school girl at the checkout saw our selection, she gave us her high school girl approval with a slight nod.
“Rob Lowe is in this,” she announced, licking her lips. “You know who Rob Lowe is, right?”
We pretended to, and headed back to the house where we made Jiffy Pop on the stove top and settled in to find out just who this girl was talking about. The movie was all about the kids from the wrong side of the tracks up against the kids from the right side of the tracks and blah blah blah. But what it was actually about…suddenly, magically, amazingly about…was hot bad boys in tight jeans and black leather jackets. Up until this point the only kind of “bad boy” Joan and I had been exposed to was the kid in our class who ate dried glue. Not so with “The Outsiders.” These were the type of bad boys who broke bottles against fences and prepped for a fight. The type of bad boys who tried to kiss good girls at drive-in movies and dropped out of school to work at gas stations. The type of bad boys who were played by every 1980s hottie you can think of.
Ohmigawd the cast. Ladies, get ready for this roll call: Besides the aforementioned Rob Lowe gettin’ out of the shower (meow) there was Tom Cruise before he went all wacka wacka, Ralph Macchio before “Wax on, wax off,” Emilio Estevez before “The Mighty Ducks,” Houston’s own beloved Patrick Swayze before he was Patrick Swayze, and C. Thomas Howell before he freaked me out in “The Hitcher.” Hell, even not-seen-enough Glenn Withrow as Tim Shepard got my panties in a knot. All of them together at once, their testosterone making the screen absolutely sweat, or so it seemed, inspiring in me countless sweet make-out dreams where I would go far but not too far, but just far enough if you know what I’m sayin’.
The quoting of Robert Frost, the saving of the church kids from the fire, the struggle between socioeconomic classes in a battle for truth and justice…that was all simply filler. None of it compared to the thrill of imagining myself as fiery redhead / tortured good-girl Cherry Valance (played by, in my jealous opinion, the undeserving Diane Lane) in the arms of one of those ciggie-smoking juvenile delinquents.
In addition to renting the video at every opportunity as well as watching it each time it aired on television, I spent many an afternoon locked up in my bedroom pretending to be Cherry Valance. I’d dream my mouse brown hair was actually red, put it up in a high 1950sesque ponytail, smear some Bonne Bell lipstick on my prepubescent mouth and spend the afternoon making out with my hand and sometimes my entire arm, drooling all over myself, pretending I was kissing the lips of a felon-in-training. I’d also get up in front of the full-length mirror on the back of my bedroom door and repeat Cherry’s famous line in what I hoped was a decent representation of an Oklahoma twang: “I hope I never see Dallas Winston again. If I do…I’d probably fall in love with him.”
Truth be told it came out more like, “Ah hooop ah nevuh see Dallas Winstuhn agaeen. If ah doooo…ah’d probahbluh faaaaaawl in luuuuuv with himmmmm.” It was like Cherry Valance with advanced multiple sclerosis or something, but whatever, I was in love.
So ladies (and gentlemen, if ya swing that way), let’s take a minute to raise a Lone Star or a shot of whiskey to one of the best movies of all time. The movie that taught a generation of young women that bad was good, badder was even better, and being totally bad ass was the best. Now go on and do it for Johnny. – Jennifer Mathieu
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